Author Archive

We Only See What We Can See

Consider two recent pieces in the New York Times: “How Animals See Themselves” by Ed Young, and “In a Parallel Universe, Another You” by Michio Kaku, both published on June 20th. Young reports that animals sense light, sounds, smells, etc. much differently than humans do.  It helps them to identify food, mates, and other means […]

Emerging Crises

I recently read Serhii Plokhy’s Atoms & Ashes (Norton, 2022), a chronicle of six nuclear disasters over several decades in America, England, Japan, and Russia, three in the military and three in electric utilities.  In all six cases, the consequences of the disaster were much worse than expected and governments did their best to cover […]

The Community of Pubs

Pubs are “public places” where we convene for drinks, meals, and often sporting events.  I always sit at the bar.  At a table, I am left to conversations with my colleagues with whom I entered the establishment or, if by myself, catching up with email with far-flung colleagues. At the bar, it is likely that […]

Democracy at Risk

Where are we headed as a country?  We were once – at least we thought – the shiny exemplar of liberal democracy.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were our themes.  We understood that there would be conflicts in these pursuits, but we would work it out.  Reasonable adversaries would discuss and debates paths […]

Appealing to Voters

Quite simplistically, assume that there are two populations of voters: X: A population that can easily be manipulated in terms of values, concerns, perceptions and decisions about consumption, health, education, and votes. Y: A population that reflects on what is knowable, explainable, and predictive, consciously deciding what is believable and the consequences for decision making. […]

Winning Ways

What do these three practices have in common? Selling exorbitantly-priced drugs that provide no relative health benefits, but one cannot buy particular patented drugs and devices from other suppliers Producing very expensive weapon systems that may no longer be needed, but one cannot buy these weapon systems and spare parts from other suppliers One cannot […]

Service Hall of Shame — Consumer Cellular

Consumer Cellular focuses on mobile phone services for older adults who do not use their phones for streaming services. The advertised monthly fees are much lower since the bandwidth utilized is much less. Consumer Cellular is collocated with Target in their electronics department. According to the Consumer Cellular website, the only store in DC providing […]

Manipulation

I find it very interesting how easily people are convinced to behave in ways in conflict with their own self interests.  Advertisements for low-quality junk foods and vehicles that really will not increase your sex appeal are good examples. Advertisements for prescription drugs that may benefit a few, but are not beneficial for most people […]

Hopeless Causes

I have been wondering about change initiatives that are hopeless in the sense that change is virtually impossible.  What do I mean by “impossible”?  Theoretical impossibility is quite rare.  Planes that fly faster than the speed of light and the elimination of death and all taxes are good examples.  Most would agree on the impossibility […]

Standards

I recently read Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age (Norton, 2022).  He provides a wonderful chronicle of the emergence of various common elements of books, and a glimpse into the notion of standards. Manuscripts were originally written in scrolls, so just one very long […]

Leaders of Change

Do the times make leaders or do leaders make the times?  I have long thought that great leaders understand the times and determine how to take advantage of them.  More specifically, I think many great leaders have had a naturalistic orientation to understanding their worlds in terms of what is achievable, in what time frames, […]

Strategies That Make a Difference

I have worked with over 100 enterprises, many large technology-based companies, quite a few government agencies, and many smaller entrepreneurial endeavors.  The large enterprises pose particular challenges.  This is due to the simple fact that they became large because of successful visions, strategies, and plans, and particularly determined execution. My encounters with executives in these […]

Societal Allocation of Resources

With the proposed FY 2023 federal budget, government expenditures will grow to roughly 23% of the $26 trillion US Gross Domestic Product. Even with the proposed substantial annual tax increases on high-earners’ incomes, the offsetting tax revenues are insufficient to avoid a perpetual trillion dollar deficit each year, amounting to 5% of US GDP. This […]

The Election Follies

Now that Members of Congress no longer have legislative responsibilities, they have become very creative in how they pursue reelection.  Some play it straight in the sense that they pretend to be serious about eliminating immigration, deporting anyone in the US whose family has been here less than three generations, and gutting K-12 curricula to […]

Running for Election

Members of Congress have only one objective – getting reelected.  Their every utterance is focused on appealing to the voters that can get them through the primaries, if necessary, and winning in the general elections.  Many also have aspirations for higher offices.  Most have absolutely no interest in policy discussions and debates.  They have concluded […]

Service Hall of Shame – Uber

Roughly a year ago, I profiled five companies that provide great service, for example, Kaiser Permanente and USAA.  This post addresses the flip side – the Service Hall of Shame.  Today’s inductee is Uber.  I have compiled ten reasons for their selection, all experienced in just two days. Let’s start with driver deficiencies.  Here are […]

Four Books I Highly Recommend

The time that I can devote to reading has soared over the past two years.  I spend much less time getting to and from meetings – typically zero.  Here are my four favorite books of the past two months.  I highly recommend them. Top of the list is Andy Norman’s Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, […]

The Many Cultures of Academia

Recent experiences have caused me to think about contrasts among science, technology, business and policy programs in academia.  I have intensely interacted with these programs at over 50 universities in North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.  My sense is that academia is an amalgam of many intellectual cultures, which do not dovetail […]

Society’s Perfect Storm

Three weather fronts collided off the New England coast in 1991 – and the subsequent movie in 2000.  The Gloucester fishing boat Andrea Gail tried to endure but could not survive the onslaught.  Everyone was lost. We have as a society encountered a collision of “fronts” that have left us reeling.  The US mortgage crisis […]

Innovation in Technology & Art

My intellectual path for well over five decades has been dominated by science and technology, influenced along the way by behavioral and social sciences, and more recently economics, politics and history.  Thus, I have become increasingly interdisciplinary.  However, the epistemological threads have all been dominated by the idea of evidence-based reasoning. What about the musical […]

Time Horizons

We seem to think of the future, and perhaps the past, in terms of decades.  We likely recall our grandparents and, of course, our parents.  We consider our own lives and those of our children in terms of employment, education and eventually retirement.  Our overall time horizon for planning is likely 20-40 years. Our plans […]

Common Ground

Thirteen months ago, the Trump wing of the Republican party attempted a coup of the US government.  They failed despite injuring hundreds and killing several.  Many hundreds of these people have been indicted for their acts of insurrection.  Prison terms have started to result with hundreds more in the offing.  The Republican party has characterized […]

The Allure of Classic Cars

The Life of the Automobile by Steven Parissenien (2014, Thomas Dunne Books) presents a panorama of automotive invention and innovation over the past 150 years.  There have been many hits, for example, Ford’s Model T, Mustang and Taurus; GM’s ’55 Chevy, GTO, and Escalade; VW’s Beetle and Golf, and Citroen’s 2CV and DS.  The number […]

Ideas and Institutions

I have been thinking about the extent to which ideas are fleeting but institutions are sustaining.  Certainly ideas can be cumulative in the sense that electricity led to communications then computing and eventually networking via digital devices and social media.  This took roughly 150 years, but that is just a blip in the 6,000 years […]

A Significant Milestone

Today, I am 75 years old.  My first engineering job was 55 years ago.  I earned my PhD from MIT five decades ago.  I was a tenured full professor at the University of Illinois over four decades ago. I was elected to the National Academy over three decades ago.    I have been on the faculties […]

The World’s Toughest Problems

A recent issue of Technology Review (October 2021) features an article, “The problem to end all problems,” by Siobhan Roberts.   This article addresses the treasured problem of “P versus NP,” the holy grail of theoretical computer science and mathematics.  Can particular problems by solved in polynomial time (nx) or non-polynomial time (en), where n is […]

When Leadership Makes a Difference

Exemplary leaders face difficult circumstances, work with others to devise plans for addressing these circumstances, cultivate support for these plans, and execute plans with a degree of success. Such success in difficult circumstances is possible.  However, as the following vignettes illustrate, leadership is crucial.  If top leaders remain stewards of the status quo, fundamental change […]

When Personalities Trump Competence

Donald Trump is, of course, the ultimate example of this phenomenon.  He is a narcissistic psychopath exhibiting extreme forms of grandiosity, exploitive behavior and a lack of empathy.  Fortunately, this severe personality disorder is not common.  There are much lessor disorders with which we must deal. One is fervent optimism.  We have all had colleagues […]

When No One Owns the Problem

There are many problems in our societies, our organizations, and our relationships that no one wants to own.  Owning a problem implies a responsibility for solving it.  If one recognizes a problem but does not own it, one can often comfortably wait for others to solve it.  After all, the problem is not yours. The […]

When Secondary Issues Dominate

Most organizations have missions and visions for how best to pursue missions, regardless of whether these value statements are formalized or not.  Organizational performance metrics indicate how well the organization is performing in terms of revenues, profits, lives saved or students educated.  Successful organizations excel in terms of organizational performance.  Most organizations try to improve […]

When We Misunderstand the Signals

I have been involved in a variety of engagements with automotive companies over the past three decades.  These companies’ abilities to understand marketplace desires 3-4 years in advance is a key element of success.  There are several compelling examples of getting this right and numerous instances of getting it wrong. Beyond uncertainties about customers’ future […]

When the Unpopular Position Is Correct

Most organizations and people like to think that everything is under control, proceeding as planned, and the sought outcomes will be realized.  If anyone suggests otherwise, they will be chastised for not being team players, perhaps for having bad attitudes, or quite simply for being outright wrong.  Unpopular positions are seldom socially acceptable in organizations. […]

When Stakeholders Thwart Change

People who are advantaged by the status quo tend to be averse to changing it.  Consequently, those who are favored in this way tend to herald its merits and distain the alternatives.  Why wouldn’t we continue the policies and strategies that generously rewarded them in the past.  As leader of an organization needing to entertain […]

When Abilities to Execute Are Secondary

It’s a great idea, but can we do it?  Can we make it happen?  We are going to boil the oceans and then provide everybody gourmet seafood dinners.  Ok for those who eat seafood, but how is this going to be accomplished?  Making the elements of a solution happen – executing — tends to be […]

When the Competition Surprises You

Consider two surprises for General Motors (GM) and how they reacted, initially poorly but later quite successively.  Both illustrations involved Ford surprising GM. The first led to a major failure and the second to a substantial success.  Indeed, failures to achieve corporate objectives are quite common in the automobile industry.  Not every vehicle is a […]

When the Organization Is in the Way

There are times when organizations are performing excellently but, despite their confidence, their futures are not bright.  Kodak and Polaroid dominated the film and instant photography industries, respectively.  My mother inherited a quantity of Kodak stock in the 1930s.  It provided generous returns for several decades.  People would always seek “Kodak moments” and needed a […]

N-Factor Authentication

2-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security to your account to prevent someone from logging in, even if they have your password. This extra security measure requires you to verify your identity using a randomized multi-digit code that your service provider texts to you each time that you attempt to log in.  Alternatively, they […]

How We Adopted Regrettable Practices

I recently finished reading Patrick Wyman’s The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World: 1480-1520 (Grand Central, 2021).  He chronicles the transformation of business and political processes during these two decades that provided the foundations for Western European dominance over the successive generations. Military aggression and conquest, financed by new approaches to […]

Research Questions

Research involves pursuing answers to questions.  How can I reset the clocks on my kitchen appliances?  A Google search usually provides a ready answer to this question.  One would not think of publishing an article on having answered this question, nor would any media outlet encourage such a publication. Do I have any bakers’ yeast?  […]

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Charles Dickens’ immortal phrase portrays a time of radical opposites taking place at the same time in a 1859 historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.  Are we at a similar time of radical contrasts?  Are similar consequences likely? Current technology and economic trends […]

Who Wants to Change?

What would you like to change?  Your eating habits and weight?  Your exercise habits and fitness?  Your salary and financial situation?  What about your opinions.  How about your fundamental beliefs?  It is much easier to avoid eating fried foods than to avoid flawed thinking.  Entertaining evidence that shows your opinions and beliefs to be simply […]

Failures of Complex Societies

Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004) provide compelling evidence for how complex societies fail.  I am not going to rigorously follow their analyses.  However, I am going to leverage their insights into the sources of […]

Complex Societies

Our society is amazingly complex.  It serves an enormous number of purposes.  An overarching goal is to persist.  Without persistence, society could not serve all its other purposes.  However, these purposes often compete and conflict for attention and resources.  I have spent much time trying to improve defense systems from my commissioning as an Air […]

Times of Ruffians

We are facing broadly-based attacks by the latest ruffians, supported by their Republican and media co-conspirators.  This has repeatedly happened before.  What can we learn from these incursions of barbarians?  Masses of uneducated, illiterate ruffians overwhelmed everyday citizens.  Social consciousness and civic pride meant absolutely nothing.  It was survival of the fittest.  The Visigoths were […]

Stories

I have been thinking about the roles stories play in our lives.  By story, I mean an account of past events or the evolution of something.  Of course, a story can also be an entertaining account of imaginary or real people and events.  Many stories provide a combination of explanation and entertainment. Stories usually have […]

Who Pays Taxes

I am in the middle of reading Rebellion, Rascals and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom Through the Ages (Princeton University Press, 2021) by Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod.  This delightful volume provides an entertaining history of taxation, which they define as “the extraction of resources by coercive rulers.”  This got me thinking about taxation in […]

How to Get Ahead

Let’s say technology innovations relevant to your enterprise happen every N years.  Further, it takes you M years to decide to adopt an innovation and once adopted the innovation is sustained for L years.  To remain at the forefront, you need at most M = 1 and L = 1.  That way, you will always […]

Health, Education & Productivity

A recent email brought notice of four impressive National Academy reports.  Two were 2021 reports on High Quality Primary Care and The Future of Nursing.  One was a 2017 report on Pathways to Health Equity and the other was a 2012 report on Primary Care and Public Health.  These are all impressive pieces of work. […]

Addressing Complications

The world seems to be coming increasingly complicated.  Everything seems connected to everything.  It seems reasonable to argue that this has long been the case.  Diseases migrated from the old world to the new world, as did social and cultural norms.  However, this process took years or decades. Now, accelerated by technology, it takes days […]

The Spectrum of Talent

Economic growth, many argue, stems from technological innovation.  Does technological innovation depend on the flow of STEM talent from our educational system?  That certainly was not the case in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Inventors emerged from all corners of society, few equipped with degrees in science and technology. The transformation from inventions to innovation […]

Rethinking Health, Education & Productivity

As I have discussed many times before, a compelling overall goal is a healthy, educated, and productive population that is competitive in the global marketplace. Anyone who is not healthy is a drag on the national economy Anyone who is not educated is a drag on the national economy Anyone who is not productive is […]

Investment Priorities

We have, of late, been focused on federal policies to assure and enhance the STEM talent pipeline in the US.  There is a widespread sense that the pipeline is not as robust as the economy and competitiveness requires.  Are we trying to “fix” STEM?  Maybe, but we need to keep priorities in perspective.  As I […]

DoD Acquisition as a Sport

The US Department of Defense acquires systems to equip forces to assure the national security of the country.  The process of acquiring systems is termed Acquisition, which involves a very complex organizational system across the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the four (now five) military services, and the aerospace/defense industry.  It is very competitive. […]

Is Everything Connected to Everything

For many years, my research related to design, operations, and maintenance of national security and space systems.  Over the past two decades, I have added healthcare delivery, higher education, urban systems, as well as energy and transportation.  These complex ecosystems interact in myriad ways.  In particular, they interact in terms of claims on societal resources. […]

What Has Changed

I began my career as an engineering assistant at Raytheon over 50 years ago.  Since then, I have founded and managed five high-tech companies, and held faculty positions at six universities.  These experiences led to working with 100+ companies, agencies, foundations, etc.  What has changed over the course of this journey? Increased computing power at […]

The Inequality of Hidden Taxes

The 2020-21 “multi-demic” of the coronavirus, economic disruption, and racial unrest has prompted a wealth of promising ideas for how to improve everyone’s lives in terms of health and wellness, economic security, and racial equity.  As appealing as these ideas may be, they will face enormous implementation challenges and hurdles. We have been here before […]

Theory to Practice

According to Wikipedia, “Critical race theory is an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.  Critical race theory examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate […]

The Business of Lying

Bill Bryson’s remarkable book, Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United State (William Morrow, 2001), chronicles the history of the English language in the US.  His chapters on travel, cooking, shopping, and advertising are particularly compelling. A key element of Bryson’s story concerns how we are convinced to value, […]

Making Money Without Providing Value

What if you could make money by selling people securities, or equivalent, that have no inherent value, but people think will eventually be worth substantially more than they paid you for them?  You can potentially make money from an endeavor that provides no value to the economy or society.  You can make money off of […]

Games for Life

I have always enjoyed playing cards.  When growing up, card games were frequent in my family and quite serious in the sense that you did not joke around.  You seriously and studiously did your best to win.  I play cards every day, now online.  In this post, I consider how card games can help us […]

Intuitions That Mislead Us

One of my recent readings has been the late Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. (Flatiron Books, 2018).  It is a fascinating read, loaded with valuable insights. Hans Rosling asked chimpanzees to answer 13 multiple-choice questions about the state of the world.  […]

The Wild West of Commodity Trading

I recently read Javier Blas and Jack Farchy’s The World for Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources (Oxford University Press, 2021).  This fascinating book reads like a novel, almost a page turner.  What will the traders do next? They chronicle the history of commodity traders of oil, grain, metals, and […]

On Being Colonized

During the Era of Colonialism (late 1400s to the mid- to late 1900s), European powers colonized most of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania, the Middle East and the Arctic, excluding Antarctica.  This typically involved oppression and exploitation of indigenous ethnic and racial groups inside the geographical area colonized.  This oppression and exploitation often is […]

Humans as Apex Predators

Simon Winchester’s latest book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (Harper, 2021), caused me to think about humans’ roles in the overall ecosystem. Are we apex predators, meaning that we regularly eat many other species but no other species regularly eats us? The contrast that interests me is not apex versus […]

Perspectives on Work

I recently finished James Suzman’s fascinating book Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots (Penguin Press, 2021).  He chronicles humans’ work practices over many millennia.  The meaning of work has changed dramatically over this period.  Perspectives that we take for granted emerged much more recently than one might have […]

Rules for Robots

Isaac Asimov introduced three rules for robots in his 1942 short story “Runaround,” which is included in his 1950 collection I, Robot. “First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human […]

One Overarching Goal

Many problems and potential fixes are being considered and debated to address the pandemic, associated economic slump, and economic and social inequities. Climate change is hovering in the wings.  How do all these potential initiatives fit together? I think we can integrate all of these ideas by thinking about how they all support pursuit of […]

Too Many Stakeholders and Too Many Ideas

There are many complex contexts that involve a wide range of stakeholders with a broad array of ideas for improving the context of interest.  Such contexts can range from neighborhoods to wards to cities to states and countries.  I am involved in one right now with 200+ ideas; a few years ago, I played a […]

Transform Work to Transform Culture

Most organizations want members of their workforce to be more collaborative, share information, and make better and faster decisions.  These pursuits are often termed workforce culture transformation.  For very large organizations, for example, elements of the federal government, this can be a daunting aspiration. Consider experiences with two examples of transforming work.  Over the past […]

How to Be a Republican

I grew up in New England in the 1960s and 70s.  My whole family was Republican.  We supported John Chafee, Edmund Brooke, Eliot Richardson, and Nelson Rockefeller.  Social liberals and fiscal conservatives.  These types of Republicans are long gone.  Nixon, then Reagan, and recently Trump discovered that courting southern whites could win elections.  Social liberalism […]

Brick by Brick and Other Innovations

I recently read Robertson and Breen’s Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry (Crown Business, 2013).  As my children, grandchildren, and I have been long-time Lego fans, this book was fascinating.  It led me to think about innovation more broadly. But first, let’s consider the Lego […]

The Invention of History

I have just finished reading Robin L. Fox’s The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates (Basic Books, 2020).  I found it interesting that numerous medical treatises were attributed to Hippocrates many centuries after his death.  It seems that the content of these treatises was more credible if attributed to Hippocrates.  I have read of […]

The Old and New Normal

The old normal involved lots of bus, metro, and uber rides to meetings with sponsors, colleagues, and friends in pursuit of new opportunities, progress on existing opportunities, and just plain socializing.  Transit time was at least an hour per day and sometimes two, sitting in a bus, train, or car catching up on your email […]

Mentoring

I often encounter people seeking mentoring.  What are they usually seeking?  My sense is that they are facing one or more dilemmas.  They are seeking help to make sense of and address these dilemmas. One dilemma is that they are facing an important decision about what to do next in their careers.  They can see […]

An Agenda for Change

What needs to change to transform our society in the ways needed to achieve new levels of equality, performance, and value creation?  I have nine suggestions in two broad areas.  In general, we need to move from status quo practices to best practices as shown in the table below.   Function Best Practices Status Quo […]

Frustrations With Change

There are several forces currently driving change in our society: Pandemic impacts that have completely upset the status quo Economic impacts of the pandemic that have left many in dire straights Disproportionate effects of economic, educational and social inequities These forces have led to an overwhelmed healthcare system, enormous unemployment, and intense frustration on the […]

A Wicked Problem

Wicked problems defy formulation and resolution.  They involve conflicting values, concerns, and perceptions that lead to conflicts, strong positions, and perhaps even hatred of the “others” who have opposing views. We are faced with roughly 50% of the country being in fundamental conflict with the other 50% of the country.  Actually, Biden-Harris won 51.3% of […]

Knowing and Being

This book provides a great tour of philosophy, primarily German, in the early decades of the 20th century. Eilenberger, W. (2018). Time of the Magicians. Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger and the Decade that Reinvented Philosophy. New York: Penguin. Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1905), and Freud’s Psychoanalysis (1917) had upset […]

Understanding and Managing Complexity

If you think the complexity of the current situation – pandemic, global warming, and race relations – is overwhelming, I have a suggestion for coping with the complexity.  The just published issue of The Bridge (https://www.nae.edu/Bridge.aspx) provides a wonderfully broad and intriguing set of perspectives of how complexity is manifested throughout our society.  We cannot […]

Crossing the Information Chasm

Facebook, Twitter, and other emergent platforms have resulted in the Balkanization of the world of information.  There are large subpopulations that believe the moon landing was faked, climate change and the pandemic are hoaxes, and the presidential election was fraudulently stolen from Donald Trump. They only pay attention to information sources that support these views.  […]

Changing of the Palace Guard

It is interesting to live in Washington, DC and observe how sponsors and colleagues are reacting to the changing of the palace guard.  Most of these people are at least one level below the political appointees of the palace guard and will not be leaving.  They seem relieved, not existentially but practically.  Their new superiors […]

Problem Solving in Complex Adaptive Systems

It is important to distinguish between understanding complex problems and solving them. Solving problems in complex adaptive systems can be quite difficult and often intractable. Climate change, global warming and their consequences provide a compelling example. The science seems clear in terms of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. The relationship […]

Designing as Dialogues in Contexts

Subramanian, E., Reich, Y., & Krishnan, S. (2020). We Are Not Users: Dialogues, Diversity, and Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. The authors’ central argument is that we have a much deeper relationship with the things we create than just being users. Social media provides compelling examples of how the usability of the interface, while important, […]

Investment Strategies

How do people envision the future?  How do they consider uncertainties? How do they think about investing today to have a better tomorrow? People seem willing to invest in their personal futures, e.g., retirement. They seem willing to invest in their children’s futures, e.g., education. The further they look into the future, the more difficult […]

Progress at the Speed of Trust

Stephen Covey originated this idea in his book The Speed of Trust (Free Press, 2006).  Progress is limited by the extent to which key stakeholders trust in the endeavor of interest and support its pursuit. There are multiple levels of trust.  At one level, we are concerned that leaders and other authorities will not mislead […]

Hope in Troubling Times

How can we deal with all the negative things swirling around us?  A natural tendency is to hunker down and avoid the bad vibrations. Just wait out the negative things until positive things are possible. Of course, if everyone does this, anything positive could be a long time coming.  Michael Curry has a proposal. Curry […]

Transforming Anger

It is so very easy to get angry about the current situation in the US.  Pandemic, recession, hurricanes, flooding, fires, earthquakes, protests about racial injustice, attempts to pack the Supreme Court and undermine elections are all woven together over the past six months.  It is almost a perfect storm of calamities. My anger is not […]

Unfortunate Themes

Here is my recent reading/watching list: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America by Kurt Anderson (Random House, 2020) The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr (Avery, 2020) Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown, 2019) The Social […]

A Reformed Optimist

“Everything will work out in the end and, if it doesn’t, it is not the end.” This was a theme in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) but attributed to Paul Coelho and John Lennon much earlier. I am an inveterate optimist, but I am reconsidering my inclinations.  Look how we have handled […]

Death by Complexity

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988) presaged Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Press, 2004).  Both books provide vivid explanations of how societies fail and why. Societies create mechanisms to deal with new challenges.  Walls are built to thwart Mongol hoards.  Regulations are created to […]

Disruptive Innovation in the Public Sector

How can innovation be cultivated in the public sector?  Consider defense, education, and healthcare.  These three primarily public sector systems are ripe for disruption and innovation. Enormous improvements of services and decreased costs are undoubtedly achievable. The key question is how to disrupt the status quo. Let’s first consider how a direct approach might work, […]

The Game of Life

I have just finished reading a wonderful book by Maria Konnikova, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win (Penguin Press, 2020).  Konnikova is a PhD psychologist who researches decision making and risk.  She decides to study this in the domain of poker.  She begins as a total novice and […]

Wrenches in the Works

It is very difficult to foster change and innovation in complex social systems.  You need to understand key stakeholders; their perceptions, concerns, and values; and how to gain their support for central elements of the changes being entertained.  It can take much time and work to build a coalition capable of moving forward. Examples of […]

A Real Deal

We have in the US over 400 years of injustice in our country. Native Americans, African-Americans, and more recent immigrants have all been abused. We have taken advantage of them for the benefits of mainstream Americans at the time. What was this mainstream?  Initially it was immigrants to Massachusetts and Virginia. Over time, we added […]

The Nature of Evidence

Show Me the Evidence was a popular book by Ron Haskins and Greg Margolis published by Brookings in 2014. The central idea was that economic and social policy should be based on credible data rather than just opinion and advocacy. This seems reasonable, although ideology has of late disrupted these intentions. Can this idea be […]

The Loss of Time

When all the days seem the same and the patterns of daily life endlessly repeat, you can begin to feel that time is gone.  The clock has stopped.  Nothing progresses. Everything is now.  The future, even the past, is on hold.  Everything will repeat, again and again. Of course, repetition has always been true. Birth, […]

Dealing With Risks

This is a very risky time. What does that mean?  Risk equals the probability that something unfortunate happens times the consequences of it happening. It seems like both sides of this equation are working against us. So, what to do?  First, we need to differentiate risks to you and the general public. If you have […]

A Complex Society

Recent challenges suggest that the complexity of society in the US has become increasingly difficult to understand and manage.  We seem to have great trouble agreeing on anything.  Consequently, we do not act to quickly understand what is happening and competently develop and execute compelling courses of action.  Let’s explore the sources of the impasse. […]

Social & Economic Equality

We have been awash in protests of racial inequality. Assuming we agree inequality is bad — not everyone does — what can be done to greatly diminish this inequality? Those who have suffered this discrimination are poor, unhealthy, and uneducated. How can we address these discrepancies?  We could just give everybody money.  This idea has […]

The Academia-Industry Interface

Academia scales down problems to make them rigorously tractable for the methods being researched. Industry scales up the methods, often sacrificing rigor, to assure results are applicable to real problems. While these may seem like mutually exclusive strategies, that need not be the case. What are needed are intermediaries who understand both sides of the […]